Supporting Online Learning Environments to Optimize Collaboration

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As part of my recent exploration of peer coaching, I have recently examined what it means to peer coach reluctant learners and what the 21st-century feedback loop looks like when peer coaching.  Now we are turning our attention to something more specific and how we can use what we learned thus far to improve lessons.  And as the program and activities I am working with are all online and being taught to educated professional adults I am going to research and examine; How can an instructor or coach design an online learning environment to support group collaboration?  I am interested in looking at how to create the most creative and engaging learning environment online. Basically, if the most convenient PD will happen online and we don’t want to distribute training but coach teachers to keep learning how can we do that online without losing engagement and excitement.  

Andrew Marcinek, Director of Technology and Co-founder, states in a recent Edutopia blog post “if your edtech professional development resembles a TED talk, you might want to reconsider the method of delivery. This is not to say that lecture is an ineffective means of delivering content, but edtech professional development (PD) should include time to explore. It should be hands-on, and groups or teams should have time to share their learning.” Furthermore, as I stated to my cohort members recently it was always difficult for me to mentally reconcile the contrasting approach to collaboration and delivery when it came to PD for teachers. I have countless memories of PD being delivered to my colleagues and me about something they wanted us to implement (i.e., blended learning, flipped classrooms, or PBL) but the PD itself was delivered in a traditional sit and get style lecture. This system felt like the Admins wanted the teachers to continually be creative and think on their feet when teaching students but when it came to the PD given to the teachers, they could not think of a better way of giving us the information.  When teachers have a chance to collaborate and tinker they can “walk away from this kind of PD ready to integrate what they’ve learned in the classroom. Also, administrators should model personal learning networks and leverage a wide range of social media for on-demand learning opportunities” (Edutopia, 2014).  I also think there is a certain protocol of PD that I will outline for optimization.  I took a deeper look at the way Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of Singapore explains meaningful learning design in five different dimensions.  These dimensions represent the ways I also believe that instructional technologist can up the ante when it comes to professional development for teachers in their districts or companies.  Keep in mind the following when creating and implementing PD. 

Learning by Doing

Doing and knowing are reciprocal and participation inevitably involves doing. In well-designed lessons, learning by doing should lead to knowledge creation in which students uncover the subject matter through their performances.

Engage Students’ Prior Knowledge

The more prior knowledge the students have on one topic, the easier it would be for students to relate the new knowledge of theory to their own experiences and learn better. There is a positive prior correlation between prior knowledge comprehensive ability. Students find it easier to retain knowledge when prior knowledge is built upon; building on their prior makes learning personal for the students.

Self-Directed Learning

Learning through participation drawing on acquired knowledge and creating new understanding happens all the time when one is involved in learning guided by self-direction.  I personally believe that self-directed learning like through MOOCs or course by correspondence is difficult.  The program that I am auditing through Edmodo is guided in parts but also self-directed as the professionals taking the course must delegate their time between their full-time jobs and their PD course we created for them.

Real World Connections

In order for learning to be meaningful learners need to be provided with opportunities to call upon what they know as a point of reference, use it as a basis for new knowledge to grow.  This will help students to see the relevance of learning. Real-world connections provide these opportunities.

Collaborative Learning

As Wang stated in ICT for Self-directed and Meaningful Learning 2010, “Technology is not a panacea. However, it has great potential to address some of the above challenges” (784).

Within ICT for Self-directed and Meaningful Learning, “Some design strategies must be applied to promote collaboration. A number of strategies work well in face-to-face classroom settings such as think-pair-share, jigsaw, or ro

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 6.18.02 PM.pngle play. But they do not work at all in an online learning environment as they often need people to meet physically. Also, collaborative learning has a number of challenges,” (783) So we know some strategies that work for in-person dynamic group collaboration but when it comes to online grouping there are different strategies to get the members engaged and active.  I know that because our SPU Digital Educational Leadership cohort meets every week and we have assignments we are expected to have ready it makes me more professional accountable.  If our cohort did not meet in a routine calendared manner I am not sure I would get my work down and continue to push myself independently of the program.

The overall general design principle summarized from this study is: If teachers want to design online learning environments for the purpose of coordinating and monitoring the collaborative learning process they are advised to implement the dimensions of meaningful learning and collaboration.


Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017, January 05). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from

Marcinek, A. (2014, May 20). Tech Integration and School Culture. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from

Tan, A. (2010). Wikis. In Chai, C.S., & Wang, Q. (Eds.), ICT for Self-directed and Meaningful Learning (pp. 783 – 795). Singapore: Pearson.


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